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Democratic lawmakers reacted angrily, and their Republican colleagues cautiously, to evidence of another breakdown in Texas Child Protective Services investigations — this time in Harris County.
“This is infuriating,” said Rep. Armando Walle, a Houston Democrat who has filed a flurry of bills over the past five years to try to force the agency to ask for what it needs — higher pay, more bodies — to lower workers’ staggering caseloads. “I’m just angry at this whole situation.”
Through early September, half of children referred to Harris County’s CPS investigators weren’t being seen on time, The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday, after analyzing an agency database that tracks initial visits with children mentioned in over 7,300 child abuse cases in the Houston area. In 1 of every 5 open cases there, children weren’t being seen at all.
. . . Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus, all Republicans, reacted to the findings — and accounts of CPS failings last week by The News and other media outlets — by sending agency overseer Henry “Hank” Whitman a letter.
In it, the leaders said not getting out and making timely checks on potentially abused children is “completely unacceptable.” They ordered the protective services department, CPS’ parent, to quickly develop an “innovative plan” to hire and train more child-abuse investigators to address the extreme backlogs. However, with 23 percent annual turnover among all caseworkers — and one-third of all investigators quitting each year — many existing slots are unfilled.
While the state GOP leaders acknowledged “associated financial costs,” they directed Whitman to essentially bolster existing efforts. They were mute about the factor that advocates stress most in improving worker performance and retention: higher wages for caseworkers and child abuse investigators.